Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - Page 20 News List

Gunners down Magpies to return to top spot

AP, LONDON

Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League with a scrappy 1-0 win at Newcastle United on Sunday, while Chelsea kept the pressure on the Gunners with a 2-1 defeat of Liverpool to stay in the hunt for the title.

Olivier Giroud ensured Arsenal start the New Year on top of the standings after ending a personal drought of seven matches without a goal.

Meanwhile, Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o secured a fourth consecutive home win for Chelsea after Martin Skrtel had opened the scoring for the Reds at Stamford Bridge.

Elsewhere, Everton recovered from their first home loss in a year to beat Southampton 2-1 and Tottenham Hotspur trounced Stoke City 3-0.

Third-placed Chelsea trail Arsenal by two points and Manchester City by one. Liverpool, who topped the standings at Christmas, are six points adrift after a second consecutive loss.

Giroud boosted Arsenal’s hopes of winning the title for the first time since 2003-2004 when he scored midway through the second half with a header from Theo Walcott’s free-kick.

The bad news for Arsenal is that midfielder Mesut Ozil, who missed Sunday’s match, is facing a short spell on the sidelines after injuring his shoulder during the win over West Ham United on Thursday.

Arsene Wenger’s team enjoyed long periods of possession and created several chances early on, but they were unable to convert them before Newcastle almost went ahead toward the end of the first half when Moussa Sissoko’s shot was tipped over by Wojciech Szczesny.

Mathieu Debuchy also headed against the bar.

Giroud had a chance to double the lead when Walcott’s lob from close range was cleared by Debuchy, but the Frenchman failed to connect properly with the loose ball.

Newcastle pushed forward toward the end, but Alan Pardew’s team slipped to just their second loss in 10 league matches.

Skrtel put the Reds in front from close range at Stamford Bridge after only four minutes, but Hazard hit back in the 17th minute with a superb strike. Eto’o gave Jose Mourinho’s team a decisive lead from Oscar’s back-heel in the 34th.

Hazard was splendid throughout in his playmaker role, while Chelsea’s defenders did a good job of containing Luis Suarez, who was reunited with Branislav Ivanovic for the first time since he bit the Serbian defender on the arm last season and was banned for 10 games.

Eto’o was lucky to escape punishment for an early challenge on Jordan Henderson that led to Skrtel’s opener. Late in the game, Eto’o appeared to foul Suarez in the penalty area, but Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho defended his striker’s physical approach to the game.

“For some weeks I have been criticizing him a lot internally for his failure to adapt to what the Premier League is in terms of physicality, so if he had a tackle deserving of a card it was my fault because I’m asking him to adapt to this,” Mourinho said. “On the other situation with Suarez, I would resolve this differently with a yellow card for Luis Suarez.”

Chelsea reacted immediately after Skrtel’s opener as Hazard saw his effort saved, before Gary Cahill headed wide from Frank Lampard’s free-kick.

Chelsea’s penalty appeals were waved away by referee Howard Webb after Hazard appeared to be clipped by Lucas in the penalty area and Lampard forced goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to tip the ball over with a trademark powerful shot from outside the area.

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